Senior Boeing official in Israel to push sale of advanced F-15 jets for Iran strike

Ted Colbert meets PM Netanyahu and defense minister Gallant, says trip shows firm’s commitment to supporting ‘long arm of Israel,’ with F-15IA jets and KC-46 tankers

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A US AFCENT F-15 fighter jet is seen at the Nevatim Airbase, January 5, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
A US AFCENT F-15 fighter jet is seen at the Nevatim Airbase, January 5, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The chief of the Boeing aircraft manufacturer’s defense wing was in Israel on Sunday and Monday to advance the supply of new, long-awaited refueling planes and fighter jets for the Israeli Air Force looking to boost its capabilities to strike Iran.

Speaking to reporters at the Boeing Israel offices in Tel Aviv, Ted Colbert, the Boeing Defense, Space and Security President and CEO said the company would be supplying Israel with 25 F-15IA fighter jets — the Israeli variant of the advanced F-15EX — with options for 25 more.

The military is looking to both add to and upgrade its existing fleet of F-15s, which can carry the kind of heavy weapons Israel would need to penetrate Iran’s nuclear sites, most of which are buried deep underground.

Colbert said the payload capability of the F-15EX is “unmatchable,” and combined with the range of the KC-46 refueling planes, it would “support the long arm of Israel.”

According to Boeing, the new F-15 “carries more weapons than any other fighter in its class, and can launch hypersonic weapons up to 22 feet long and weigh up to 7,000 pounds.”

Colbert said the company hopes to eventually replace all of Israel’s aging F-15I fleet, provided Israel decides to move ahead with procuring more.

Boeing Defense, Space and Security President and CEO Ted Colbert meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the PMO in Jerusalem, February 19, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“My visit is about making sure that it is absolutely and positively clear that we remain committed to serving Israel, and that is expressed through the two big programs with the government of Israel and military, the F-15IA and the KC-46,” he said.

“We believe those represent the right capabilities to support the long arm of Israel, to support the missions today and the future,” Colbert said, in an apparent reference to a potential strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

In January, Israel sent a formal request to the United States to purchase the new F-15 fighters.

Colbert met Sunday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and on Monday with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to discuss the supply of the F-15 jets and KC-46 tankers, and other general matters.

There is no timeline yet, but the earliest Israel would likely receive the new jets would be in 2028. Israel is expected to push for faster delivery. Colbert said Boeing was working “as fast as it can” to supply the aircraft to Israel as soon as possible.

Many of Israel’s F-15 fighter jets — known in Hebrew as the “Baz,” or “Falcon” — were first constructed and delivered in the 1970s, though they have been upgraded and refurbished in the interim decades.

If the deal goes through and Israel returns to purchasing F-15s, it would mark the first Boeing fighter jet acquisition by the Israeli Air Force in two decades. In the years since, Israel has bought 100 F-16s and another 50 F-35 stealth jets from Boeing’s chief competitor, Lockheed Martin.

A US Air Force Boeing KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling plane connects to a F-35 fighter jet over California, January 22, 2019. (US Air Force/Ethan Wagner)

The first of four KC-46 tankers, which Israel would need in order to conduct a strike in Iran, is still scheduled to be delivered in 2025. Israel has asked that this date be moved up — which would require the US to give up its spot in line to receive planes from Boeing — but Washington has thus far rejected the request.

The multi-role aircraft makes mid-air refueling possible for fighter jets and other aircraft, but can also be used for military transport.

For Israel, the aircraft are seen as necessary to conduct potential major strikes against targets in Iran, some 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from Israel and far outside the normal flight range of Israeli jets.

The KC-46 aircraft are to replace the Israeli Air Force’s current fleet of aging refueling planes, which includes KC-130 Hercules and converted Boeing 707s.

Under an agreement last year, Israel has the option to purchase four more KC-46 planes in the future as well.

The first KC-46 was delivered to the US Air Force in 2019 and the service has ordered 179 of the planes, set to be delivered by 2027.

In a series of farewell interviews last month, outgoing IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi reiterated that Iran was the main focus of the Israeli military, which was working to ensure it had the capabilities to go it alone if necessary to stop Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In light of the growing uncertainty regarding a return by Iran to the 2015 nuclear deal with Western powers, the past two years have seen the IDF ramp up efforts to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear sites.

Israel has been pushing for the US to prepare military contingency plans in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. US President Joe Biden has said he is prepared to use military force if necessary but still prefers to exhaust the diplomatic route first.

Most Popular
read more: